TETERBORO, N.J. (WPIX)—A small plane attempting to land at Teterboro Airport early Friday morning, bursted into flames and crashed in a nearby parking lot just north of the New Jersey airport.
The plane hit a tree before it crashed upright in the parking lot of a carpet and flooring warehouse at Route 46 and Industrial Avenue in Industrial Park, just yards from Teterboro Airport, as it tried to land on Runway 1 at 3:19am.
There were two men, a pilot and co-pilot, on board the twin-engine Jaguar Special Edition Beechcraft King Air. One man was identified as George Maddox, 54, of Reading, Pennsylvania. The other man was identified as Sanil Gopinath, 42, of Rockville, Maryland.
Amazingly, the two men were able to crawl out of the fiery plane to safety. They were sitting on a curb by a bus stop when Little Ferry Police Officer Adam Warne, who was first responder on the scene, found them. The officer said they were alert and answering questions.
"I saw the wreckage and they both said 'We were in the plane.' So I was a little taken aback," said Warne, "[I asked] 'How did you walk away from this?'"
Little Ferry Police Chief Ralph Verdi speculated, "I guess God was on their shoulder."
Ryan Sievers, who was driving on Route 46 and saw the two injured pilots. "They were propped up. One guy had burns all up and down his arms and the other guy had a burn on his head," Sievers told PIX News, "Then cops came and they started kicking us back. The fire, it took them a while to put it out."
Fire Chief Dennis Jansen said Port Authority crash trucks were already putting foam on the fire and nearly extinguished it when his units arrived.
Another eyewitness, who took a cellphone picture of the blaze, told PIX News that flames were at least 20 feet high.
Maddox was airlifted to St. Barnabas Medical Center's burn unit in nearby Livingston with severe burns between 20 percent to 30 percent of his body, which including his lower extremities and arms. He is listed in critical condition.
Gopinath suffered head injuries and burns and was initially sent to Hackensack Medical Center via ground transportation. But he was later transported to St. Barnabas, where New Jersey state's only burn unit is located, in serious condition.
Warne said the pilot with the head injury was recounting the story to him. "The one who had more burns sat there and was in a daze," he said.
Both men are expected to recover from the injuries.
The plane took off from Reading Regional Airport in Pennsylvania at 10:44pm and was carrying blood specimens to a testing lab for Quest Diagnostics, located at 1 Malcolm Ave, just down the street from the crash site and one block away from Industrial Avenue in Teterboro.
Before it left for Teterboro, the plane had already made stops at Hartford, Connecticut, Norwood, Massachusetts and Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
As a precaution, Teterboro Airport was closed to all air traffic and was reopened later Friday morning. Route 46 is a major thoroughfare in New Jersey. All eastbound lanes are open, but only one westbound lane is open.
At 7am, recovery crews were in the process of removing the wreckage from the highway as the National Transportation Safety Board continues their ground investigation. The Federal Aviation Administration will take custody of the totaled plane to further their investigation into the cause of the crash. Two eyewitnesses were also taken aside for questioning by the FAA.
Although the pilot was cleared to land, it aborted the landing for a "go-around," according to the NTSB. A go-around is a standard aircraft maneuver that is performed if the pilot is not perfectly satisfied that all requirements are met for a safe landing. These conditions include the angle of the approach, aircraft speed and landing gear configurations.
The small plane did not make any distress calls before the crash, said Verdi. It is unclear why a go-around was needed.
No other injuries were reported.
Several units responded to the crash, including officers from Hasbrouck Heights, Bergen County, the Port Authority and FAA.
The NTSB said there have been a wide variety of complaints about safety at Teterboro Airport, and that they have worked at least twice as many cases on safety violations from Teterboro than at LaGuardia or JFK Airports.
Teterboro is the same airport where a small plane took off and crashed into a tourist helicopter over the Hudson River earlier this month. The fatal crash left nine people, including five Italian tourists, dead.